Should he stay or should he go?
By: Taylor Ford
Three years ago, Leighton Vander Esch looked to be one of the league’s best linebackers. He only started 11 games in that rookie season of his. Yet, he still made the pro bowl and looked like a man on a mission. He turned a lot of heads that season, but since then has not lived up to the expectations of the first-round talent. For one reason or the other, he has been a disappointment in the last two seasons. Should the Cowboys keep Leighton? Let us weigh out our options.
Leighton did it all in his rookie season and looked to make his name well known around the league. He was everywhere on the field and tallied a total of 140 tackles. 2 of those tackles were for a loss. He has never been a linebacker to rush the quarterback. Therefore, he is typically playing the pass. He had 7 passes defended and 2 interceptions in the 2018 season.
After his spectacular rookie season, he basically has disappeared on his stats. He has produced fewer and fewer stats every season. In 2019 he only put up 72 tackles and 3 passes defended. In 2020 under Mike Nolan, he only had 60 tackles with no passes defended.
Vander Esch has had several injuries since 2016. The first one came in August of 2016, he had an LCL sprain. Despite getting injured before the season, he was ready for week one in college. He then suffered a pinched nerve in his neck a couple of months later and forced him to sit 7 games.
His NFL career has been about the same. In his rookie season he had a few minor injuries. 2018 Leighton suffered an ankle sprain and a groin pull before the season started. Luckily, he was ready for week one. In 2019 he missed seven total games with a cervical neck stinger and had to have surgery. In 2020 Leighton Broke his collarbone in the season opener and missed multiple weeks as well. To say the least, this guy cannot seem to stay healthy long enough to make a big impact like he did his rookie season.
Last season Leighton looked lost in Mike Nolan’s system. At times he has literally turned around. This season has new expectations with Dan Quinn coming in as the defensive coordinator. According to Quinn, Vander Esch looks like a man on a mission. That is the kind of thing a Cowboy fan wants to hear. Let us get back to the Leighton of old and shine like the star he has supposed to have been. He was playing the Mike linebacker position under Nolan. Under Dan Quinn, Leighton will be sliding back to the Will position. This is where he strived in 2018. It sounds as if he will be going back to playing in a coverage role going forward. This is where he will excel.
Going back to the injuries, LVE had another injury scare in practice on June 3rd. He went down and stayed down for a while. Luckily, he just got the wind knocked out of him. Hopefully, he stays healthy this offseason and the upcoming season.
The Dallas Cowboys have decided not to pick up the fifth-year option for Leighton Vander Esch. This would mean that if he is not signed after this season, he would be a free agent. Though, Jerry Jones has said that he does want to keep Vander Esch after the 2021 season. So, basically, Jerry wants to keep Leighton, but not for the 9-million-dollar price tag it is going to cost him in 2022. So once again a Dallas Cowboy player is on the hot seat and in a prove-it year for a contract.
Why keep him?
He should do better this coming season because he is going to be put into a better role. A role that he is more familiar with and one that he has had success with. Dan Quinn knows what kind of players he likes for his system, and he has developed a liking for Leighton Vander Esch. Quinn loves his skill and drives to do better each and every day in practice. Though he has not done well in the past couple of seasons, he has proven to have a lot of success before. He may be able to get back to that. If Leighton does well, he may want to stay with the team. He may have to take a team-friendly deal, but it could happen. If he stayed in Dallas, that would mean he will be the starter for the foreseeable future on the weak side.
Why let him go?
The most obvious reason is that he has a very injury-riddled history. The last thing the Dallas Cowboys want is another talented Linebacker like Sean Lee that cannot stay on the field long enough to show his talent. There is a reason Leighton did not get his fifth-year option picked up. He has been a disappointment, to say the least. Not only did he miss 13 total games in the last two seasons, but also played like a lost man in 2020. Yes, the system was not good at all. Either way he did not look good.
Other teams have already shown interest in Leighton, but Jerry Jones has turned down offers supposedly. I think he wants to see what he has in the other players he acquired this offseason before he moves on from Leighton. Furthermore, He has already said he wants to keep LVE, anything is for sale for the right price. There easily could be a team that offers something the Cowboys’ front office cannot refuse.
The Wrap Up
With the newly acquired depth, I could see them moving on from him at some point this season. If they do not find a trade, they like or a trade partner I do not see Leighton staying in Dallas. Either way, him staying, most likely will not happen. If he has a bad season, the Cowboys’ front office will let him walk. If he has a good season, he will most likely ask for way too much money. In my opinion, it makes more sense to trade him now. If he has a bad season, he loses a lot of value, and you end up having to eat the first-round pick it cost to draft him. The cons far outweigh the pros in this scenario. With that said, Jerry Jones most likely will hang on to his former first-round pick for the entire season. He is going to hope to the same thing every Cowboy fan hopes for. We all want to see the 2018 Leighton Vander Esch return with a chip on his shoulder.